Sunday, 30 May 2010

GenderBender: The Unmentionable

“I am just a woman who loves my man" and "...inside I am a complete woman" - Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

Following international outrage and a visit by UN Chief Ban Ki Moon, the President of Malawi (Bingu Wa Mathurika) has somewhat ungraciously pardoned Steven Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20). The Scriptonite laptop was burning up preparing an article on the ‘what next?’ for Malawi and how to leverage this pardon to push the principle that whatever the oral code of a country the Law should be separate from it.
But this isn’t a story of two gay men arrested for attempting a gay wedding. This is the story of a man and a woman….as Tiwonge identifies as a woman.

Coverage across the internet and print on African and western news sites and feeds has focussed this issue around the fact that both parties were in this case physically male and therefore, indictable under anti-homosexual laws in Malawi.

There is a whole chunter in the twitterverse about not just the mainstream media but the gay media being anti-Trans…I cite two such tweets I received personally to @scriptonite today:

“@Scriptonite you might find this helpful: http://nodesignation.com/?p=124 Gay media has been openly transphobic for decades and still is.”

“@Scriptonite… Common thing in media coverage of trans people, we are erased as "gay"”

I took on looking at the claims by the Trans community on this one and making this article about understanding it.

Firstly, there’s social ignorance with a small ‘i’.
I think of the times growing up where well-meaning white folks would say similar things about their ‘black friend down the bingo…oh she’s brilliant!’
Just the other day a taxi driver pointed out that I was a lesbian and that he was definitely ok with it and we should all just ‘live and let live I say’.
As unpopular as it may be to say, I can be with that kind of stuff. I get the sentiment with which it is uttered and am comfortable having conversations with people if I feel awkward…..and you know what, how about a little love and generosity to these lovely souls who don’t quite get it right but are coming from a place of reaching out? This is ignorance of understanding with a small i.

However, in the media and in reference to Trans people….there appears to be an intentional Ignorance with a big I, which intends to distort or undermine the status of the person.

Often I have noticed pronouns in quotation marks or apostrophes as if they are somehow alleged:
Transsexual Joanna Bloggs felt ‘her’ treatment by the bigots was atrocious.

If not this then the pronoun of the trans persons’ socially ascribed gender at birth is used:
Transsexual Joe Bloggs (a.k.a. Joanna) felt his treatment by the bigots was atrocious.

Or there is the complete ignorance of the fact and the ascribing of the person as gay, when they identify as Trans:
Joe Bloggs and his gay lover felt their treatment by the bigots was atrocious.

It is this third kind of Ignorance which has been used in the case of Tiwonge and Steven in Malawi.

Any gay person you speak to may well be able to call up a memory of having their partner referred to as their ‘friend’ by relatives of friends at some point or another through the evolution of the acceptance of gay identity within the UK at least. It irks….it really irks.

I ‘fess up to also portraying this story as two gay men and being somewhat ashamed of myself for having not picked up on this. So, sincere apologies to any of the Trans community who were aware of this and consequently offended by my misgendering of Tiwonge.

So why do we find it so difficult to step away from our binary, divine right approach to gender assignment?
Does this mean that the proper place for T is nowhere near L, G and B?
How can we ensure that those of us who care, hold the media to account in reporting Trans stories fairly and accurately?

The list of questions for us goes on….and I for one am excited to be part of that debate within our society. As human beings, we do tend to get spooked when something comes up which means our views and perspectives need to be stretched and adapted. This however, is nothing new. The gender identity issue is as old as the hills…so isn’t it about time we took it personally and each made our own personal step forth in understanding and accepting gender identities as they are expressed by the individual? In this way, person by person, the kaleidoscope shifts….and the world as we know it transforms.

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